The fast Ford Escort in ordinary usage
As I write, there is trouble at opposite ends of the motoring spectrum. Rolls-Royce have run out of money. Ford has run out of workers. One cannot believe that these famous makers will just fade away, and one hopes that both companies will soon be in full productive capacity again.
Meanwhile, I have been making use of an untuned Ford Mexico, fitting in some motoring in this lively Escort between other road-tests. Last year I got to know the Ford RS1600 pretty intimately and, having forgiven it for not being able to digest its timing belt, was sorry when the time came to return it to Ford’s Press Department. Now, I am glad to say, it has been replaced by an Escort Mexico. This particular Mexico is in eye-catching maize-yellow paintwork, but there is not much embarrassment to this nowadays, when all manner of cars come in bright and cheerful hues and you see the Uncles and Aunts commuting unconcernedly in Minis and Dafs the colour of over-ripe oranges.
The “Mexico” badges and speed stripes are not fitted, so this Escort has a touch of Q-car about it, being labelled an Escort GT. But shove the throttle open and its rally ancestry is soon apparent. It is shod with those grippy Goodyear G800s on Minilite wheels and has Contour competition-type front seats, the latter as grippy as the tyres and comfortable except that, sitting fairly close to the steering wheel, the driving throne slid along its runners like a rocket-launched sled when I had to crash-brake! It locks one notch further back than I really care about—I suppose I should grow longer legs.
I took the car over with 5,117 miles on its decimal odometer (no trip) and promptly set off on a long non-stop journey. Why not? Had not the excellent Alf Belson, who handed over this eye-catching Escort, said that it had been serviced and shouldn’t require any attention for 10,000 miles?
Having read all the praise bestowed on the Escort Mexico by a colleague in the December, 1970 and January, 1971 issues of Motor Sport, I felt that I was about to enjoy myself, although I had hoped “my” Mexico might have had those Cibie Oscar auxiliary lamps which are listed as an extra (however, pen-pushers cannot be choosers, and the Lucas headlamps light the way quite effectively).
Initial impressions? Not having driven the RS1600 for some time, the heavy clutch and servo disc/drum brakes that don’t do anything much until the pedal goes well down (O.K. thereafter) couldn’t be ignored, until I had become accustomed to Mexico motoring, and I missed the background “cammy” noise from under the bonnet, which in the RS1600 had sometimes had pedestrians spinning round and mouthing “BDA” as one accelerated away from traffic tangles.
The push-rod power unit of the Mexico is far more civilised, a prompt cold-commencer like all Fords, but provides very adequate acceleration—and that could be regarded as the understatement of the month by owners of more staid machinery. Only when in a genuine hurry or truly in a mood to “play bears” is the difference in step-off between twin o.h.c. and 16 valves and knitting needles and eight valves noticeable, without recourse to a stopwatch. (Would Georges Roesch have faintly approved?) One thing which was immediately appreciated was Ford’s repositioning of the Escort’s previously exasperating switch-gear. The two under-facia switches operated by the left hand work heater-fan (two-speed) and wipers, the lamps-switch now being similarly placed but for right-thumb actuation. This still involves a fair stretch, but is far better than the original fumbly arrangement, which could plunge even drivers experienced in Escorts in sudden darkness when they jabbed for the wipers. The Mexico also had a useful foot-operated wash/wiper.
There is little need for me to enlarge on the characteristics of this Escort Mexico—the impressive road-holding, the instant-response to the accelerator, the manner in which this two-door family-size box clings on round acute bends, or what can be done by a flick of the light, so responsive rack-and-pinion steering and the right foot! On open roads or for traffic work the Mexico is fun, and very reassuring. Its dished, thick-rimmed leather-grip steering wheel tends to blank some of the small dials (fuel, oil, heat and battery), the lamps-dip stalk feels a bit brittle, and the ride can be lively, making the body rattle, the power roar intrudes as one opens it full out. But what FUN!
The gear change is extremely good; a real treat, in fact after a terrible week driving an XJ6 Jaguar with a clutch apparently specially contrived as a leg-muscle-developer and a quite horrid gearbox—all credit to Ford for endowing inexpensive cars with enjoyable gearboxes, especially as some luxury-car manufacturers cannot manage this and have to turn to automatic fool’s transmissions to hide their incompetence… The rally-tough bodyshell which the Mexico shares with the RS1600 may not be strictly necessary for ordinary motoring but it is nice to have, even when your “yumps” are minimal compared to Mikkola’s.
There is not much more to say, at this stage. The Mexico ran 282 miles on its first brimful tank of fuel (approximately 31 m.p.g.), compared to the 274 miles I got from a tanked-up RS1600. So far the little yellow horror has done 2,000 miles in my care, at roughly 1,700 m.p.p. of Castrol GTX and without trouble, apart from vibration severing the air-cleaner snout from the drum; so that it was promptly run over. The engine doesn’t appear to miss it, however. More later, about this fascinating Ford.—W.B.